SEC West Preview

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

OUR SUMMER COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
BEGIN TODAY WITH THE SEC WEST

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Don't think we're disappearing just because baseball is taking a few days off!

Today we begin our annual summer series of College Football conference previews. We start with the SEC West today, home of last year's champion Alabama Crimson Tide (and this year's Preseason #1). We'll move over to the SEC East tomorrow, then run through the Big East on Wednesday. After a day to summarize the first half of the MLB season for all our baseball readers, we'll pick back up again Friday with the ACC Atlantic, the ACC Coastal, and the Big 10 through the weekend (followed soon after by the remaining BCS leagues).

If you're a fan of the mid-majors, those will run toward the end of the month. Our annual NFL divisional previews will start on the day of the Hall of Fame game matching Cincinnati and Dallas in early August.

Yes...it's time to talk FOOTBALL!

The baseball All-Star break is the perfect time to talk to JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK about early bird packages. Call 1-800-323-4453 for complete details. The earlier you sign up, the more you save!

Here we go...let's look at what's in store for Alabama and the rest of the SEC West...

ALABAMA
Athlon Ranking: 1
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 42nd on offense, 2nd on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 1 on defens
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2010 OUTLOOK: It's no secret that Alabama won with defense last year. They were second best in the nation, and a virtual brick wall when it mattered. There were some good offenses in the SEC last year, which makes that national ranking even more impressive. The offense was better than critics suggested. The Florida Gators could tell you about that. They looked like Swiss Cheese in the SEC Championship game loss last January.

This year, you get the sense that the offense will have to carry much of the load. Only one starter returns on the Alabama defense! They have great schematics...great coaches...and great recruiting...so we don't expect a defensive collapse (neither do pollsters apparently). Still, there will be an adjustment period...and the offense needs to step up big during that process.
Greg McElroy returns at quarterback. He impressed as a first year starter last season. It's going to be a down year for quarterbacks in the SEC this year, so the Tide will have an advantage at that position most every time they take the field. It will be interesting to see if ‘Bama can stay on top with leadership coming from so many new faces.

An early challenge awaits in Week Two when Penn State comes to visit. That's a HUGE game. The first six weeks of SEC play are potentially brutal with at Arkansas, Florida, at South Carolina, Ole Miss, at Tennessee, and at LSU providing quite the gauntlet. Alabama surely earned their championship last year by running the table against a very tough schedule. A repeat performance would be something special indeed.

In terms of handicapping, we know it's tough to dodge all the bullets two years in a row. We'll be looking for value spots to go against a team that's likely to be overpriced early in the season, and in fatigue situations with all the new personnel.

ARKANSAS
Athlon Ranking: 17
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 20th on offense, 89th on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 6 on defense

2010 OUTLOOK: This is your typical up-tempo contender...top notch on offense but lousy on defense. Arkansas will be the new Texas Tech now that Texas Tech isn't themselves any more. Will that be enough for the Hogs to derail ‘Bama? Hey, Texas Tech beat Texas in Lubbock. Arkansas can surely pull an upset in Fayeteville on September 25th.

Typically with Bobby Petrino coached teams, we look to lay points when they're playing somebody they can bully...but we back away in big games. No reason to change our minds here. This experienced offense led by quarterback Ryan Mallett should abuse the soft spots on their schedule (and some medium spots too!). They'll have to prove themselves to us in bigger games.

The non-conference schedule isn't particularly daunting this year. SEC slates are daunting enough on their own. Is Arkansas really a top 20 caliber team? They were only 8-5 last year, and looked fairly awful in a nailbiter bowl win over unimpressive East Carolina. We'll say it this way...there will be a few weeks where they look like a Top Ten team. But probably a few too many were they don't quite live up to the hype. That's the nature of this style of play.

AUBURN
Athlon Ranking: 22
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 16th on offense, 68th on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 8 on defens
e
2010 OUTLOOK: Wow...what a jump for Auburn! How is Gene Chizik getting this much respect? The answer lies in two key factors. Most of the media watched Auburn take Alabama right down to the wire in their regular season finale. Then, you have eight starters returning on both sides of the ball. The SEC gets so much national respect now that a combination like that is enough to get you in the top 25 before any games are played. The Tigers can confirm they belong on September 18 with a high profile interconference game against Clemson of the ACC.

We'll say this about Chizik. He may be one of those coaches that needs some good cards in his hand to play his best poker. He was a very respected assistant at Texas. He seemed in way over his head in the top spot at outmanned Iowa State. The surprise hire at Auburn more than held his own in his debut season. We'd like to see more defense before we get on any bandwagons. Half of Auburn's regular season opponents scored 30 or more. Northwestern had a big game in the Outback Bowl. You're going to win in the SEC without defense?!

In 2009, Jim Hurley's college dogs bit the bookmakers to the tune fo 26-6-2! Get on board for our Blue Ribbon Football Club and be ready to hit your man hard off the ball in September!

LSU
Athlon Ranking: 24
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 112th on offense, 26th on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense

2010 OUTLOOK: That horrible 112th ranking on offense just jumps off the page. That should be impossible for a 'riverboat gambler' head coach in a football recruiting hotbed. It's not like they had to play Alabama every week! The offensive performance was frankly a disgrace last year. They need to upgrade quickly or their Top 25 national ranking this summer is going to look like a joke.

Clearly this is a huge year for Les Miles. The National Championship a few years back earned him a longer leash. The LSU faithful won't stay patient for long though. If the downward trend continues, Miles will be moving on. He's the type to wear out his welcome over time anyway.

We're interested to see how LSU handles early season challenges with North Carolina (Week One) and West Virginia (Week Four). It's likely to the flow of the season will get started in those two games. Let September results pick the rest of the games for you.

MISSISSIPPI
Athlon Ranking: 53
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 44th on offense, 21st on defense
Returning Starters: 1 on offense, 6 on defense

2010 OUTLOOK: You don't often seen college football units returning just one starter on either side of the ball. We have TWO teams like that in the SEC West! It was Alabama's defense that was ravaged by graduation. For Ole Miss, it's the offense. And, it's an offense that really wasn't as good as it's 44th ranking last year when you adjusted for context. Departed Jevan Snead ran up the score on teams like Memphis, SE Louisiana, and UAB. Versus real defenses things got ugly. Now Houston Nutt will be trying to move the ball with NO experience against real SEC defenses!

The good news is that September's schedule is a relative breeze. The new talent can get their feet wet with manageable opposition. The Rebels also draw Vandy and Kentucky (along with Tennessee) from the SEC East. This is basically the easiest SEC schedule possible!

We'll let early results guide us. Houston Nutt is capable of pulling a rabbit or two out of his hat as an underdog. We're guessing the team will generally be overpriced this year because of their higher profile the past two seasons.

MISSISSIPPI STATE
Athlon Ranking: 54
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 65th on offense, 58th on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 5 on defense

2010 OUTLOOK: Coach Dan Mullen is still in a transition period, bringing in his kind of athletes to run his kind of offense. We don't see this as being the breakout year given the lack of experience at quarterback. Maybe the new signal caller will surprise us and lead to some strong pointspread performances.

There are three SEC toughies on the September schedule (Auburn, at LSU, Georgia), which will provide a quick and dirty litmus test. We like this coach. This may be a team that earns some consideration as they mature later in the season.

In terms of the sixpack as a whole, these two things jump out at us:

*COACHING STABILITY: all six head coaches were in these roles last year. You'll know what you'll be getting in terms of schematics.

*QUESTION MARKS AT QUARTERBACK: Both Alabama and Arkansas are set with quality. LSU is returning a poor QB from an abysmal offense. The other three teams will be experimenting with inexperienced signal callers, trying to win in the toughest conference in the land. That's four teams...two-thirds of the division...that may be lacking at the most important position on the field.

On the whole, we see a step back for the SEC West from last year. If Alabama's new defense is in the neighborhood of the old one, that means their schedule may be slightly easier than it first seemed. But, if the Tide struggles with all the new faces on that side of the ball, this whole group may be overranked by 5-10 spots in the preseason publications...possibly more.

We have to say we're VERY pleased that so many teams are testing themselves in September. We'll learn a lot in those games. Every nugget of gold you uncover in September is worth a treasure chest the rest of the way!

If you've had trouble in recent college football seasons because you were wrong early, then kept compounding your mistakes out of frustration...make sure you get started off on the right foot in 2010. Make the commitment NOW to join JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for the full football season. The number to call is 1-800-323-4453. Have your questions ready for our representatives. Our BLUE RIBBON service is specially priced during baseball's All-Star Break because we know so many of you start to focus on football.

Back tomorrow with Florida and the SEC East. As for now...you've got a phone call to make!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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